Taking the stress out of your child's annual celebrations!

Archive for the ‘Early years’ Category

Attention! It’s not so hard.

Attention!

My crocheted fingerpuppet soldier standing to attention.

One of the biggest areas of debate  I face when clients call me  is that concerning  attention span. More often than not, when clients see that I offer a minimum time session of 45 minutes to an hour they will say that their child definitely will not sit for that length of time. Even though I respect that my clients know their own children best of all, I always ask my clients to keep an open mind when it comes to puppet entertainment , that it may be that their child may react in a different way altogether when faced with live entertainment and personal interaction , focus and involvement. Modern studies suggest that due to new technologies, our attention spans are growing shorter and shorter , requiring more and more stimuli to keep us entertained. I challenge  this study.  Why should we now believe that our children can’t concentrate on anything  just because they won’t sit for long in front of a screen?

When it comes to human interaction , children are able to concentrate for great lengths of time.

My experience over 20 years of working in the field of children’s entertainment suggests that all children , even the youngest , are able to maintain focus if you involve them with eye contact, ‘mugging’

Silly sausage me.

( exaggerated facial expressions and grand gestures) and changes in pace and volume. Even adults are easily bored if things are monotonous. Add familiarity and ownership to the mix and you are on to an absolute sure fire winner.

What do I mean by ownership? Well, in my routines , I make sure that I play the silly billy. I’m the adult that can’t get things right. I’m very careful not to do this in a patronising way as that can be very easily sniffed out as disingenuous by savvy kids , but use a big dollop of tongue in cheek humour to keep just this side of silly. In this role I’m not the teacher , I’m the pupil in the world of the child. I get things wrong so they , my young audience, can teach me ( or my puppet) how to do things. ( Although at a recent party at a Nursery , Valentina ( 4years old) stood up and announced in a very big voice that I was the ‘bestest teacher in the world’. Thanks Valentina. <3)

That’s the theory anyway. It’s proven to be a winner for me over the years. I can honestly say I’ve managed to maintain rapt attention for at least 45 minutes for all of my audiences , be they 2 years old or a little older.

Today though was rather special.

But let me set the scene:

Rain Rain go away , come again another day.

If anyone knows anything about the weather in the UK recently, it has not stopped raining for months now. Everywhere is soggy. Our Summer has been washed out.

Despite this weather, I had been booked to do an outdoor session in a park for a class of 5 year old children as a special treat. We were lucky enough to get a brief spell of sunshine early on in the day but the ground was still seriously sodden, in fact in areas the grass was covered in puddle.

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun said Noel Coward. Well this mad dog and English woman joined the children and made the best of the soggy grass ( we had brought waterproof backed rugs in preparation) and we settled down for 90 minutes of puppets ,songs and puppet illustrated storytelling.

We giggled with Twinkle the baby monkey as he refused to say helloand deliberately wouldn’t say please.  We sang and quacked with Mummy Duck and her babies

Five little ducks crochet puppets

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack

and went for a visit to Old Macdonald’s farm where all the animals seemed to be dogs?

We played Sleeping Bunnies

s,ee

See the little bunnies sleeping

( very squished up as the ground was sodden) and hopped and laughed and had lots of bunny cuddles. ( Yes even/especially the boys!) We laughed at silly Fifi the Fairy

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

who was very proud of her crocheted ringlets and who tried to ‘Whip her hair back and forth”

until I got her to sing Twinkle Twinkle  instead.

Then I got out my thunder machine and prepared the mood to tell the story of the Stomping Elephant

My elephant puppet

on my beautiful African printed fabric. We roared with the naughty Lion, squeaked with the tiny mouse and buzzed with the wasp with the very pointy stingy bottom.

” That was a good story” said one little contented child at the conclusion of that tale.

Then we jumped on the bed with Jaffa the monkey and burped with the naughty crocodile who had identity issues and a dental problem. Then it was See you later Alligator, in a while crocodile

Snap! Snap!

as the hour and a half had quickly drawn to a very happy end.

This bunch of 30 5 year old’s had given me total focus and concentration and lots and lots of giggles and interaction all the way through the 90 minutes in a public park on soggy grass, bunched up together . Not the most ideal conditions you might think.

” Can you come again?” piped up one little boy.

Clearly 90 minutes wasn’t enough for this young fellow.

We ended with a big round of applause for the clever children and pats on the back for being a brilliant audience.

I told them that they had just done something most adults couldn’t do: pay close attention for an hour and a half.

Ya boo sucks statistics.

I know what I see and I see ATTENTION!

So next time you doubt your child’s attention span, think  again. You may be surprised!

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Thanks!

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How I became a Flairy : Or childhood dreams fulfilled.

Today was a good day.

Weather wise it couldn’t have been nicer. The sun was out and the temperature was unseasonably warm for the time of year. I woke up fresh and early , put on my work clothes , ribbons and all, packed my suitcase full of my handmade puppets and set off for a morning gig at a lovely Nursery , Puddleducks in Putney , South West London.

Kids entertainer and puppeteer Diane of Diane's Puppets

My work hairdo, jolly huh?

I trundled off down the road heading for the train station, dragging my pink suitcase full of my puppets behind me. The sun beat down and the birds sang. ‘Life is good’ , I thought.

I managed to catch the train without having to wait , a minor miracle in itself, and I settled down for an uneventful journey.

I hadn’t bargained on the very charming very old man who sat down next to me. Granted he was a little grubby, and worse for wear, it looked like he struggled to maintain a certain standard of dress but he was very old , so who was I to judge? I was certainly dressed in a rather unusual fashion with my ribbons and my gold sequined top and purple skirt festooned with butterflies, dragons and flowers. Most commuters gave me a wide berth on public transport usually, to be frank. Difference is often viewed with scepticism  in London ( there are so many nutters unusual characters about, it is just a part of London life and London caution and reserve).

This lovely man embarked on a question and answer session that would have made Michael Parkinson proud. He interviewed me thoroughly, grilling me ( in the nicest possible way) about my job as a children’s entertainer and puppeteer. Most people dismiss my job quickly as I don’t fit the usual model of adult in the workplace. It was highly unusual that this old gentleman kept saying how serious my job was and how difficult it must be to work with such young children. It was wonderful to have such validation from such a sage man, here was someone who naturally understood my #Respectthesilly campaign. As the train pulled into the station, we both got up to leave and this gentleman started to thank me for speaking to him, over and over again.

Maybe because of the way he was turned out, most people shunned him and wouldn’t talk to him? Maybe he was very lonely? To me he seemed like a wonderful old soul who was there to reassure me that I was on the right path in my life’s journey. Call me silly if you want.

So, after this most unusual start, I got to the nursery and began my first session with the under two’s. It was too sweet to see those little ones playing Sleeping Bunnies with my bunny puppet

s,ee

See the little bunnies sleeping

Diane and her puppets

Me and Bobby Bunny and Tabitha cat

I even had these tiniest of clients telling me the animals names in Old Macdonald’s Farm. They were clever little children. Clearly the Nursery is doing a very good job.

Of course there were cuddles all around from my ‘Easter’ bunny Bobby and my baby monkey Twinkle.

After that sweet session with the under 2’s I moved across the playground to the older children. As I crossed the playground, one of the mummies was dropping off her little boy. She stopped in her tracks when she saw me. ” I know you” she said. “I’ve seen you at a party before”. I  agreed that that possibility was most likely , after all I have been puppeting for over 18 years now. That same mummy turned to the Head of Nursery and said, “That’s Diane, she’s famous!”

I smiled. One aim ticked off my bucket list: to be famous for a talent.

I’m probably famous amongst the Under 5’s in London, well sort of.

What other sort of fame could I possibly want?

Well, we had a ball! Hopping with Bobby the Easter Bunny, laughing and quacking with Mummy Duck and her babies.

And all of her five little ducks came back!

It was when I was preparing the children to meet my puppet Fairy Fifi

Fairy puppet Fifi

Fifi eating her wand

and showing the children the fairy toadstools on my skirt

Magical toadstools where fairies live.

when the children came alive with their own stories of fairy sightings. One young boy’s voice rang out above the other excited enthusiastic contributers and he said: ” I saw a flairy ( sic) in my garden today and she looked like you!”

So that was my childhood dream and ambition fulfilled right there in that moment. I had always wanted to grow up to be a fairy but at a hardly delicate UK size 16 , I had all but given up on that ambition. This young lad had just confirmed that I had reached my goal.

So there you have it ladies and gentleman. I am now officially a f(l)airy, a rather substantial,a little older and a feminist fairy , but a fairy nevertheless.

An old man and a young boy made my dreams come true today.

This feminist fairy is very happy and grateful.

 

 

 

Mummy Duck Returns

Making more puppets at Diane’s Puppets

I pride myself on making my own puppets here at Diane’s Puppets. I like to think that anyone who books a Diane’s Puppets party is getting a very unique experience both visually and on a performance level. No one else will have puppets like mine.

One of my favourite puppets that I have used over the years was Mummy Duck. She was a white fluffy knitted duck who flew off my knitting needles one day. She was soft and cuddly but very very bossy and loud and rather silly. She was always losing her five baby ducks when they went swimming over the hills and far away. Silly Mummy Duck would constantly suggest they were in the dustbin when I enquired where she thought they had gone. Luckily the boys and girls would always manage to call her babies back and they would get a nice cuddle from Mummy Duck before being scolded and told to go to bed.

Then Mummy Duck swam off somewhere.

I’ve looked everywhere for her, even in the dustbin. She’s just not there.

 

So I’ve been missing her sorely.

So, here is Mummy Duck the 2nd. A yellow crochet duck with 5 new babies.

Yellow crochet duck puppet

Quack Quack Quack QUACK!

Yellow crochet duck puppet

And all of her 5 little ducks came back!

Yellow crochet duck puppet

Mummy duck scolds her babies for swimming away

Five little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack!

But only four little ducks came back.

 

Four little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack!

But only three little ducks came back.

 

Three little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack

But only two little ducks came back.

 

Two little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack

But only one little duck came back.

 

One little duck went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Mummy Duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack

But no little ducks came swimming back. 😦

 

No little ducks went swimming one day

Over the hills and far away

Everyone said Quack Quack Quack Quack!

And all of the five little ducks came swimming back.

Five little ducks crochet puppets

Mummy duck said Quack Quack Quack Quack

 

 

Diane’s Puppets : Original puppet shows and silly songs and fabulous face painting for the best children’s party EVER.

Parties for the Very Young

Celebrating those first few milestones

My darling granddaughter on her first birthday.

Birthday parties for children are important and especially important to the very young. Those first few milestones are significant. It’s all about becoming a ‘big boy’ or a ‘big girl’ until you actually are a big boy or girl, then only certain birthday milestones become important like 16, 21 , ( then I daren’t mention the rest , but you get my drift)

At 47, I really couldn’t be bothered if I never saw another birthday again, and I know there are quite a few of you reading this out there who can empathise with that last statement, but don’t let your adult disinterest in birthdays mask  the massive significance our children place on these days.

So when should we start celebrating birthdays? When is the right time to host a birthday party?

This really is down to the individual.

As a children’s entertainer, I have been booked on many occasion to entertain at a one year old birthday party. I’m one of the few entertainers who will take on board the challenge of a baby party.

I know that there are many of you out there who will consider this a waste of time and money. How can anyone possibly expect to entertain a one year old? They are babies , right?

Yes indeed, they are babies, but if you see the reaction those same babies have to puppets , especially if their parents or carers are actively involved in the singing and actions with the puppets, you’d understand why I keep being called back to entertain for  one year old parties.

Those first birthday parties are largely family affairs, and often consist of a mixed age audience. Very seldom do I attend a first year old baby party and it is solely babies. This mixed age family atmosphere makes first birthday parties really special. Tapping into that warm , supportive energy that close family members bring is a wonderful ingredient to a successful first birthday party. I often see older siblings , cousins ( sometimes even grandparents!) joining in with the actions and hopping  with the bunny or helping the birthday child row the boat. It is a special intimate moment to witness. One such party was for lovely Natasha Kaplinksy who booked me to help celebrate her daughter’s first birthday party last year.

So what themes are suitable for first birthdays?

I’ll be honest, I’m not the worlds biggest fan of themes when it comes to birthday parties for very young children. They work great for older children when you can do activity based stuff, like games and competitions , then the capacity to run with a theme is endless. When working with very young children you really have to work with what they are familiar with . So an obvious theme could be animals ( plenty of songs about animals ) or nursery rhymes .

Do be careful that you don’t get carried away with the theme and then throw out opportunity of including all your baby’s favourite songs and activities because they don’t fit within the theme. Most experienced entertainers will work out a way to adapt their routines to fit most popular themes but when working with very young children, flexibility is key. If you don’t go with the flow you may get swept away with the tide!

So to sum up, if you feel like throwing a party for your baby on their first birthday, go ahead! This day is as much about celebrating your first year of being a parent to this child as well as the child’s first milestone. Why not enjoy it together?

Sometimes even babies like their faces painted!

 

 

A Very Merry Puppet Xmas

Today Christmas started for me in earnest.

I suppose it should’ve started last Sunday as I held a craft stall at Morley College Winter Fair and face painted lots of lovely children ( and a few adults too!)

Facepainting for Morley College Winter fair

Lots of bigger boys really loved having ‘tattoos’ painted on their arms. I did a whole array of fire breathing dragons and snakes.

Fire breathing dragon coming to life

One of the highlights of my day there was face painting lots of boys as vampires. Thanks to the Twilight movies and Robert Pattinson‘s blue sparkly face, I was easily able to convince the boys to indulge in a face full of glitter.

It’s not often a young man can have a sparkly face and be deemed by other boys to be ‘awesome’. That was some magic happening there.

Big up the sparkles I say.

 

Oh did I mention that I was also concurrently running a craft stall of my crochet goods that was being very ably (wo)manned by my youngest daughter? It was wonderful to find loving homes for my crochet creations and to feel genuine enthusiasm over things that I had created with my own hands. ( Nice to make a bit of money as well). I’m looking forward to my Christmas Eve Craft stall in Station Road Brixton on the 24th.

Oh yes, back to today Christmas started in earnest. I was working for a lovely Montessori Nursery School in Little Venice. I did two sessions for their children, telling my Christmas story featuring Bobby Bunny, Tabitha Cat and of course, naughty fairy Fifi who steals the star on top of Tabitha’s Christmas tree. Of course at the end Fifi returns the star as she is worried that if she doesn’t , Santa won’t bring her presents.

Santa and Rudolph the red nosed Reindeer starred in the story and the children were delighted to meet them. We sang Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer , Jingle Bells and When Santa got stuck up the chimney , Father Christmas ( he got stuck) and even managed to squeeze in a quick game of Sleeping Bunnies with Bobby Bunny.

It was a joy to bring Christmas Spirit to these wide eyed wonderful children. It really reminded me what I believe Christmas is really about : appreciating our children. Indulge in their wonderment, enter their belief in sleigh bells and Santa and Jingle bells, life is too short to go all Ebeneezer Scrooge. For me Christmas is not about money, it’s not about things, it’s about the feeling of being loved and loving.

 

Thank you Windmill Montessori for reminding me of the true spirit of Christmas.

Tomorrow another Montessori school and another Christmas show. I’m so lucky. I get to do Christmas at least 20 times each year with those amongst us who really care about the true spirit of Christmas.

There may be a global recession right now but we are rich beyond our ken.

Children are our gifts.

 

From Freak to Friend in Forty Minutes

London Kids entertainer and puppet show provider Diane

Rainbow on my head

I’m a Children’s Entertainer so my work clothes are somewhat bright. I stand out in a crowd. I love my work outfit. I wear it on my way to work . When I walk down London’s streets on my way to a birthday party I often get stared at. Sometimes I get whistled at , sometimes I raise a smile from old ladies but the most common reaction is laughter , especially from teenagers. Upon explaining that ‘ These are my work clothes’ , the derision quickly changes to interest and sometimes to admiration. Yes, folks, I get paid to play and  make people laugh at birthday parties, how cool is that?

Today I had a little birthday party for a  sweet three year old girl in Chelsea. When I walked in, there was a small boy who was sitting on his mummy’s knee who burst into tears when he saw me.

My heart sank.

Mummy explained he was a little freaked out by my hair. I can understand, it’s not everyday that you meet a lady who wears a rainbow in  her hair. When you’re three that must be a little disconcerting to discover.

I made the decision to avoid all eye contact and play to the children who were in front of me and not focus on the little boy. I made a conscious effort to comment about my silly hair and call myself a silly sausage. There’s nothing like humour to cut tension.

I kept half an eye out for the little boy in question as I continued with my routine and smiled as I saw his tears turn first to smiles and then to laughter. I didn’t quite manage to persuade him to have a cuddle from the bunny puppet like the other boys and girls but I knew I had turned his fear into interest and I didn’t want to push my luck.

He never left his mummy’s lap but I managed to turn myself from a ribbon monster to a funny lady in just forty minutes. I even had a kiss blown in my direction on departure.

THAT’S THE WAY TO DO IT!

London Children's entertainer and puppeteer Diane

Birthday party entertainer/face painter and puppeteer Diane of Diane's Puppets

Out of Africa

an Axatse (rattle from Ghana)

Image via Wikipedia

I was born in the midlands, England ( ahem) years ago. When I was ten my parents decided to emigrate to South Africa so I packed my teddy and prepared  to see lions.

I never really did see lions, except in a Zoo. My childish ideas of Africa were born in the mythology of the childhood Jungle where the Lion is the king. I didn’t expect the bright lights and heaven forbid, fish and chip shops! Cape Town and the beautiful Table Mountain became my home for over a decade.

I lived at the very tip of Africa for eleven years, and soaked up the sun and the culture and vibrancy until I decided it was time to return to my roots. I didn’t regret my African experience, far from it, Africa fired my loins and gave me my love for bright colours and a deep passion for African music ( and an awakening of my political awareness as I was dropped into Apartheid South Africa which shook me to my very core).

Today in my job as a children’s entertainer and storyteller, I told African stories at a South East London school. It was lovely to be able to bring a piece of my African memory and passion to such lovely children. They lapped up the stories of the trickster Spider Anansi, and were enthralled at my clumsy rendition of Nyame the Sky God,

My vision of Nyame the Sky God, in papier mache

as I hid behind my paper mache mask. They chuckled at the burping Lion and the silly witch called 5 and we explored yams and beautiful African fabric.

The box of stories and the sticky doll

I spoke about the web of stories that Anansi has spun around the globe, reaching far and wide from their origins in Ghana , travelling across the Caribbean and over to North America and all over Africa and we ended the stories by jumping on an imaginary bed with Jaffa, my monkey.

The cast and crew from the Anansi Spider tales

It was a delightful day at work.

The last time I told Anansi stories at a school in Brixton, upon showing the children the Sky God mask and the magic box of stories, one boy declared that he was going to call the police as I had stolen stuff from the museum. Bless him. I had to get him up to the front so he could see that the mask and box were just made of cardboard. 🙂

Storyteller Diane of Diane's Puppets tells Anansi Stories

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